If the budget were in the hands of the public, rather than in the hands of the president and Congress, what would the man and woman on the street choose to cut?
According to a survey conducted by the PEW Research Center for the People & the Press (Feb. 2-7), the four most popular spending cuts, in descending order, are: global poverty assistance (45 percent of respondents would decrease spending); military defense (30 percent); unemployment assistance (28 percent); and environmental protection (26 percent). Since, from among these four, military defense is by far the largest part of the budget (nearly a quarter of it), lawmakers could make substantial cuts here and that the public supports. Fortunately, some freshmen House Republicans have shown a willingness to make defense cuts, including today, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an expensive engine program that both the Bush and Obama administrations have tried to dismantle.
Conversely, the American public also has its “sacred cows,” according to the PEW study, that is, items for which it would like to see spending increased, not frozen or cut. The top four of these are: education (62 percent favor increased spending); veterans’ benefits and services (51 percent); health care (41 percent); and Medicare (40 percent). Combating crime, at 39 percent, almost makes the list. Pollsters note, however, that public support for these sacred cows has decreased markedly over the last two years. That response could indicate a growing public awareness that spending—even on what it values most—must decrease.
For budgeters, the survey results cast a light on where the speed bumps lie in the road toward public acceptance. Health care—if more broadly construed to include the Veteran’s Administration, Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP—makes up an even larger portion of the federal budget than defense. Lawmakers, however, must convince the public that they can find fair and effective ways of reducing these costs, without curtailing the major benefits.
Note: This image is made for the 2011 budget; the budget now being discussed is for 2012.